The Wedge Driving Students Away
I remember the worst insult a college student could possibly receive. Worse than Nazi, worse than baby killer, worse than any pejorative term, racial slur, insult to intelligence, or character defamation, worse than any four-letter word I could think of. Worse, even, than “greedy capitalist.”
You might as well be all of the above combined, according to the average college student.
“Oh, that’s Brendan, he’s a horrible right-winger, a total douche,” I remember people referring to my friend, Brendan Steven. When I was in college, I got sucked into the Brendan-hating fervor even though he was always very nice to me, despite actually (secretly) agreeing with a lot of what he said, despite the fact that he was far from extremist as far as “right wingers” go; in fact, by American standards, he would probably be a solid centrist. A few years after I graduated, I apologized to Brendan Steven for the way I treated him, leaving the student paper he edited due to pressure from my friends on the morally righteous left, who dominated the campus and vilified Brendan. When his paper The Prince Arthur Herald, the only outspoken pro-Israel paper on campus, published an article criticizing gay adoption, I had my getaway car. The Herald was suddenly homophobic, even though many of my pieces in favor of gay rights and gay adoption were published in that very paper.
Instead of leaving the paper in a huff for respecting free speech, I should have just written an article criticizing the offending piece, but of course, I was not mature enough to realize it. I was stuck in the leftist mob mentality, a mentality promoted everywhere on campus: in the fliers that littered the bulletin boards, in the students, in the professors, in every nook and cranny.
The enemy of everything good in the world. Against human and civil rights, in favour of polluting the environment for future generations. Against charity and rainbows and hugs and all that is good. Necessarily a braindead religious racist, sexist, homophobic, bourgeois, transphobic, ableist, Zionist, orientalist toad who may as well be manually stealing food from starving African orphans, who wants the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer, so poor they languish into oblivion while the money stolen from them by evil right wingers lines our pockets and our stomachs, which press against our pants and spill over them, overflowing with stolen excess that isn’t rightfully ours. As “right wingers,” or anyone who disagrees with any of their views, we are considered akin to the antithesis of anything that is good for humanity.
Now that you know the extent of what it means to be a “right-winger” on a college campus, let me break a piece of sad news:
“Right Winger” is a package, and possessing anything in that package relegates you to that label, and pegs you immediately as morally repugnant. Unfortunately, as they co-opt everything else, the anti-Israel groups on campus have successfully relegated Zionism to part of that package.
They have done so by using every adjective or analogy that is used to describe characteristics of leftist movements in order to describe theirs: “intersectional,” “anti-oppression,” “for equal rights,” “against human rights violations,” etc. They have managed to infiltrate the highest echelons of left-wing NGOs such as Amnesty International, UNICEF, and Peace Now, which are revered by the general student consensus as emblematic of all that is good in the world. Since these groups vehemently oppose Israel and reiterate the anti-Israel rhetoric that has been pandered to proactive left-wing college students for decades while we were asleep at the wheel, then each new generation of college students will assume that since these organizations, which maintain the highest standards of morality and ethics as per their indoctrination, hate Israel, then Israel must be evil incarnate.
In other words, Israel must be a right-wing entity, and the fact that right-wing parties and stereotypically right-wing groups such as evangelicals tend to support Israel allows them to bolster that notion and repudiate Zionists by their association with those who support other right-wing causes the dominant left finds repugnant.
At their core, college students are still kids. They still retain many characteristics of the adolescent brain. They value being accepted over being right, they will follow whatever trend is seen as “cool,” even if the majority of the adult world finds it silly. They are still coming into their own, forging their new identities, and their confidence is generally a work in progress, even if they may appear brazen at times. This impressionable demographic is what we are dealing with, and the other side seems to understand the psychology really well. They start “social movements,” “revolutions” that reflect the zeitgeist, blend seamlessly into the “vibe” of the moment. If spoken word or hip hop poetry is “in,” they’ll get behind it. If thrift store clothing is in, they’ll make their paraphernalia reflect that style. If #BlackLivesMatter is in, they’ll not only get behind it, they’ll get into it, such that they blend so seamlessly they are seen as much a part of the scene as your pants are part of your wardrobe.
Meanwhile, the pro-Israel side has taken the fact that we have the truth completely for granted, not realizing that college students will take whatever is packaged to them the coolest, rather than what passes historical muster and scrutiny. If this weren’t the case, the entire field of marketing would have no purpose. We have missed the boat, we are behind the eight ball, and it is possible we have simply come too late to the party. We represent the older generation, the conservatives, everything that runs counter to the beliefs these students are groomed to possess, which is ironic because in essence, our value system is far more compatible with that of the progressive left than the sexist, racist, homophobic worldview that is dominant in Palestinian society and enforced by the PA government. But the anti-Israel movement has dressed itself up so nicely that it doesn’t even matter. They have successfully put lipstick on a pig, and now everyone is convinced it is kosher.
Lately, Hillel has been under fire by many pro-Israel blogs for allowing anti-Israel views in their tent. This piece was written by my friend about UC Berkeley, and this piece, which I wrote about my own experiences, illustrate this contentious issue. However, when thinking about the zeitgeist of the time and how students are, you almost can’t blame Hillel.
They are a group intended to bring students closer to Judaism. By representing, at least overtly and proudly, what college students are groomed to believe is “right-wing” or antithetical to all that is good, Hillel would be committing an act of social suicide. Why would students even come to Hillel if they oppose all that is trendy by associating with anything that is seen as “right-wing”? Hillel knows that, which is why it has distanced itself from pro-Israel advocacy, or at least the unapologetic kind, and have brought in the more trendy, subversive voices. Hillel is petrified of alienating the trend setters on campus, which happen to be avant-garde, progressive leftist students, seen as more sophisticated, open-minded, and forward-thinking than their more traditional “right-wing” counterparts. Instead of create a new movement, they stay silent, act ashamed of some of the more “indefensible” parts of Israel’s story (according to certain mainstream advocacy handbooks), and let the anti-Israel left infiltrate without a care, with utmost complacency, as if this shift were the inevitable consequence of the passage of time
Many Christian denominations had the same problem in the 1960’s and ’70’s, during the sexual revolution. Religion was becoming less popular, and they worried that youngsters were drifting away from the church and Christianity. The church represented the “old generation,” all that was “outdated,” and didn’t interest kids anymore as a result, despite the existence of youth groups. How did the churches experience a resurgence? By making themselves cool. They introduced Christian rock bands and rap artists, dressing them in the latest fashions and having them latch onto the latest trends. Suddenly, Jesus is their homie.
Hillel needs to take a page out of that playbook, being the voice of Jewish youth on campus. If we don’t want to lose a generation, we need to act now, and focus more on marketing and less on fundraising. When Zionism becomes cool again, the fundraising will do itself.
As Hillel brings in more and more anti-Israel voices, brainwashing more and more Jewish students, they create a vicious cycle: being anti-Israel is considered cool, so they allow anti-Israel speakers, who convince more students to have anti-Israel views, with the legitimacy conferred by Hillel’s stamp of approval as the “Jewish home on campus,” rendering even more students anti-Israel, making being pro-Israel considered even less cool, and so on. They might feel as if they are between a rock and a hard place: they don’t want to be seen as uncool or go against the will of the “trendsetting” students, but they also don’t want to compromise the Hillel standards of partnership. Some Hillels choose what’s “cool”, and others choose to do what’s right. On the former campuses, BDS thrives. On the latter campuses, the Jewish and pro-Israel spirit thrives in tandem.
What Hillel doesn’t realize is that they can be the trend setters. Confidence begins at home, and as the “Jewish home on campus,” Hillel must not give into the intimidation of the majority of pro-active college students, which sadly are disproportionately radical leftists. Hillel needs to become the trendsetter – they need to latch onto what’s cool, the spirit of the age, incorporate what’s trendy and become it. Since the “right wing” is the opposite of cool to the majority of students and professors, instead of rolling with the notion that Zionism is right-wing, we need to show how unapologetic Zionism, which even has anticapitalist roots, is in fact compatible with the very leftist worldview and zeitgeist we have been raised to go along with. It is an indigenous, progressive, multicultural human rights movement, basically preventing a liberal democracy from being replaced by a homogeneous, oppressive dictatorship. I can’t think of anything more leftist than that. We need to not only join the zeitgeist, but become it.